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Review of “At Hell’s Gates, Volume 1″

At Hell’s Gates is the initial horror volume in a series anthologies produced with the proceeds going to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. The overall theme of this series is general horror, but this volume leans heavily on zombie apocalypse related tales from authors with books already out on that subject matter. The stories told here are tied in with their other works, giving a short story that sometimes lies at the periphery of the world they have created or serves as an new slant on characters a reader of those works is already familiar with.
Overall, the work here is solid and the writing entertaining. This book serves more as a sampler platter of various author’s works rather than standalone tales except in a few cases, although little is lost in translation if you hadn’t read any of the books from the author’s bibliography. For example, I have read Stephen Kozeniewski’s work, The Ghoul Archipelago and his short here is based on the world we see in that novel, but I have not read anything from Stevie Kopas, but her tale of murder and insanity stands on its own quite well, though it is a part of a bigger world the author has created in her novels. The only criticism I have of the layout of this work, at least in the e-version, is that the introduction of the authors comes after the stories, when the ‘teaser’ description of the story and how it relates to their greater works should have come prior to each tale. A minor quibble, but one worth mentioning.
Anthologies are always a mixed bag, and some stories grab you more than others. That is inevitable with such a wide assortment of writing styles, authors, and story types, and such was the case here. I didn’t dislike any of the stories, but a few stood out and will remain with me for quite some time. The aforementioned author’s tales fall into that group, as well as stories by Paul Mannering, Tim Marquiz, Frank Tayell, and Jacqueline Druga. Their stories made the leap from the page into my imagine more so than any of the others. Of course, anyone who enjoys a good zompoc tale will likely find a good primer for a larger series of books by various authors to check out-with traditional slow moving zombies as well as infected and fast moving, talking zombies being found within these pages. And while some of these stories weren’t as compelling as standalones, they did intrigue me enough to perhaps take a closer look at the bigger stories being told.
With future volumes having specific themes, it is more than likely that the stories will be standalone tales of horror rather than shorts tied into a larger saga as was the case here. This is a solid start to a promising anthology series with the proceeds going to a very worthy cause.
At Hell’s Gates can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/At-Hells-Gates-Volume-One/dp/150254539X/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

Review of Donna Burgess’ “Notes From The End Of The World”

Notes From the End of the World follows the exploits of characters Cindy and Nick during the initial days and months of the outbreak of the N-Virus. They are two teenagers who live in a small suburban town in South Carolina facing the onslaught of the dead coming back to life. But not in the way most stories in this genre are introduced, or how they usually proceed. This is more like a slow burn, where the virus creeps into their lives much like the shamblers do in the story.
Cindy and Nick go to the same high school and Nick is dating Cindy’s older, more popular (and stuck up) sister. The story is told in first person, predominantly from Cindy’s perspective, although Nick’s experiences is also shared in various chapters, giving insight into how his world is crumbling alongside Cindy’s. Even Cindy’s older sister shares the spotlight with a few select blog posts scattered throughout the book.
With most zombie apocalypse stories you can categorize them as either initial outbreak tales or sagas of long term survival in the months and years that follow. Some encapsulate both, but generally speaking, those that speak of the initial outbreak are sudden, abrupt, and show the world falling apart within days, if not hours. Not so with Notes From the End of the World. The N-Virus impacts the lives of everyone slowly, over many months, with the world not slipping into darkness overnight, but by dribs and drabs. And as is often the case, we see most people in denial, going about their daily lives even as select members of the population begin wandering the streets, ravenous for flesh. The police routinely deal with these shamblers, and funeral homes have gotten into the new business of setting up facilities where a loved one who has turned can be kept behind fences to be viewed by the living who can’t quite come to grips with reality. Cindy continues to go to school, even as the occasional zombie wanders the campus and less and less of the student body show up every day.
This is a YA zombie story, with Cindy’s unrequited love for Nick taking center stage along with the other heartaches that come from the steady loss of life around her. Initially, she is a volunteer at the local hospital, where the dread that comes with the undead being more prominent. Her father is a doctor who works at the hospital but does his best to shelter his family from the impending reality that the world is slowly, inch by inch, coming to an end.
Though Cindy is in some ways a petulant teenager, her character seems genuine here, in turns accepting the terrible fate that awaits her and everyone she cares about and at other times caught up in the jealousy surrounding Nick’s relationship with her sister and her love for him. At one point in the tale, Cindy is in a class at school when a discussion occurs between the teacher and the few remaining students asking why people are in such denial about the N-Virus and its impact and it is suggested that everyone is going through various stages of coping with grief that typically come from dealing with a long term ailment. But when soldiers indiscriminately start shooting both shamblers and the living who cross their path, it becomes clear to all that nothing will ever be the same again.
While this is a YA tale that focuses on Cindy’s affection for Nick and the difficult relationship she has with her sister, it brings an interesting variation to the telling of the traditional zombie tale that a wider audience should appreciate with the slow, shambling despair that comes with the inevitability of a plague of this magnitude. There is no immediate and harsh dose of reality that comes with an overnight transition from a normal world to the end of times. Instead, like a cancer spreading inch by dreadful inch, there is at various times denial, anger, and depression, with acceptance coming, as it usually does, far too late for most.
While there are some typos and some other grammatical errors here, they don’t distract from the overall enjoyment of this tale. A zombie fan who doesn’t like YA fiction might not be interested with this one, but others should find the author’s take on the advent of the zombie apocalypse rather novel.
Notes From the End of the World can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Notes-End-World-Volume-1/dp/0692300252/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1415559184&sr=8-1

Review of Craig Jones’ “Son of Blood (The Secret of Skerries)”

Son of Blood (The Secret of Skerries) introduces the reader to Martin and his son, who live off the coast of Ireland on a small island with an ancient castle.  The island sits across from the quaint town of Skerries, where the local town folk know of the man and his teenage son, as well as their secret.  Martin has committed himself as protector over the town and is friends with the town’s mayor, who has gained power and wealth due to Martin’s steadfast loyalty and unique talents of keeping undesirables out.

Martin is a vampire.  His son is one too, although he has not fed on the living, and Martin hopes that Christian will never do so.  More than anything, Martin wants to protect his son and has kept him from interacting with the townspeople throughout his life, but much like his father, Christian has fallen for a pretty girl from the town and wants to be more than just the mysterious freak who lives on the island across the way.  The fact that the girl he is interested in is the mayor’s daughter who has friends who despise Christian and his father poses a serious threat him and his father’s peaceful relationship with the town.

Son of Blood could be deemed a young adult paranormal romance with a healthy horror twist to it.  I’ve read some of the author’s other works and he doesn’t shy away from the gore, giving his vamps not only a desire for blood, but flesh as well.  These vamps are far more traditional bloodsuckers than what we have seen as of late in this genre, and Martin, for all his love for his son and desire to shelter him away from the curse that has taken him is truly a monster and a remorseless killer.  He claims to feed on only those who would not be missed, like the destitute and homeless, as if he is doing society a favor by eradicating them, but mixed in with those unfortunates are others who have loved ones who acutely feel their loss.

Martin and Christian’s relationship is by its very nature, strained, but despite the fact that Martin knows he is cursed by his affliction, his only real desire is to do everything he can to make sure Christian does not suffer that same fate.  Of course, that means keeping his away from those who his son might be tempted to feed upon.  Naturally, since Christian has grown into a teenager who has been kept isolated all his life, he is compelled to make connections with others his own age, and in particular with Sinead, the mayor’s daughter, who is as intrigued with him as he is with her.

The story moves at a brisk pace and is an easy read.  The main characters-Martin, Christian, and Sinead, are fairly well developed.  Unfortunately, some of the other minor characters are not as fleshed out.  Owen, the bullying friend of Sinead who despises Christian and thinks of him as a freak, is more or less a stereotype of most teen bullies we’ve seen in other tales, though the forces spurring him to hurt Christian offer up a bit of a twist.

Overall, this is an entertaining tale geared toward an audience who long for vampires with a bit more traditional heft and bite to them than what has been unleashed on the world over the past few years in the young adult genre.  While a teen romance drives this story, it is a far darker tale than we’ve seen and more than likely will grow darker still with future volumes.

Son of Blood (The Secret of Skerries) can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Son-Blood-Secrets-Skerries-Book-ebook/dp/B00MWCPE82/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=1-3&qid=1412733720

Review of Stan Timmon’s “Ammon’s Horn”

Ammon’s Horn sounds like some kind of a mythological creation and while it a term derived from Egyptian mythology, it refers to part of the hippocampus for the purposes of this tale.  It is an area of the brain that is impacted as someone is affected by the ‘noids, or a form of extreme paranoia.

The story introduces us to Danny, a police profiler in Chicago and Gemma, his star reporter fiancé as they start suspecting all is not well in the world.  Multiple reports start filing in of otherwise normal people committing sudden brutal acts of violence and then remembering little to none of them, often shortly before they commit suicide.  Digging deeper leads to a suspicion that these events aren’t just happenstance-a full moon or temporary madness, but something that is getting worse and spreading across the country, creeping from the east coast west toward California, where the President has retreated.  When Gemma reports on it, plenty of people deny its reality, thinking it more groupthink paranoia rather than some sort of brain ailment having an external cause.  She dubs the term ‘noids after a taxi driver, gripped by madness, almost runs over a pregnant woman and said he did it because he was all ‘noided out.

The story follows the initial run ins with the ‘noids that Danny and Gemma suffer through before they travel west at the urging of a mysterious government agent who knows a great deal about what is really happening and what dark secrets are behind this strange plague that has gripped the population.

Ammon’s Horn takes a very different slant on the end of the world, apocalyptic scenario, with its monsters and anyone around them not really knowing what they are; if they are infected or knowing if or when they might snap.  Someone infected with the ‘noids can wreak tremendous havoc and then not remember what happened, leading to even more mayhem when it grips them again.  This story has the flavor of a Stephen King thriller, with deeply drawn main characters that come to life on the page in vivid detail.  The acts of violence are brutal and sudden, perpetrated by people who are, to a great extent, innocent as the brain inside their heads begin to deteriorate and play vile tricks on them.  Danny and Gemma are interesting, well thought out characters, with Danny’s own paranoia at what is happening all around him keeping him guessing as to his own state of mind throughout the story.

This was a well written, intriguing tale with some very compelling twists and turns including a jaw dropping ending that forced me to re-read it more than once to make sure I understood what had just happened.  There are hints and clues throughout that will likely lead to a variant of reader’s paranoia about what is truly happening and who is to blame for the sickness that seems to have gripped everyone in its path.

Ammon’s Horn can be found here:  http://www.amazon.com/Ammons-Horn-Stan-Timmons/dp/161868096X/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1411316061&sr=8-1

Review of Joseph Souza’s “Darpocalypse”

Darpocalypse, the second book in The Living Dead Series by Joseph Souza, jumps ahead from the prior book in time and introduces us to mostly brand new characters who did not appear in the prior novel.  Dar, the suicidal teenager, is the only one who remains.  She has become the merciless leader of the Boston Commons compound where a group of survivors live thanks to her quick thinking in urging a city engineer to fence the area in before the surge of undead swept over the city.  Gritz, a Delta Force colonel, is the lone survivor in a failed mission to stop a nuclear power plant from going critical as the undead overwhelmed the area.  He has been put on a new mission by the President to get to Boston to find the “ghost” that is in the compound and bring them back to Washington DC to save the city from annihilation.  Annabelle is a washed up rock star performing for Dar on stage in Boston to entertain the survivors, and also goes out into the dead city to gather supplies because she is immune to the infection and more importantly, is a ghost who can walk among them.  Mike Brabas is a man on death row waiting to be executed until the dead rise, and then accidentally discovers that he too is a ghost.  Now his delusions of grandeur and terroristic tendencies have him pointed toward Washington D.C. with every intention of creating a new world order with him as its leader.

Darpocalypse is a total shift from the first book in this series.  It moves from first person to third and many of the things that happened and were significant elements of the first book have been pushed aside.  No longer do any infected animals appear here, although the infected humans still go through a transformation where they appear to have transcended into some sort of state of grace momentarily, speaking about the chosen or regrets they had in life, before transforming yet again into the ravenous monsters that zombie fans know and love.  The nuclear fallout pushing south from Maine appears to have had no impact on Boston either.  Dar still has visions of heading west to find her father and the first scroll-the journal her uncle wrote that might have the scientific information to save everyone who remains, though that is secondary to her efforts to rule what remains of Boston with an iron fist.  Thom, her father and narrator from the first book, has supposedly set up camp out in Washington State with a ghost of his own, though he is not a part of this book at all.

There were few redeemable characters in the first book except for some secondary ones.  This book also provides us with its share of the despicable, but mixed among them are far more likable people, which made it easier for me to root for someone.  In the first book, I found that very hard to do.  Annabelle, the former drug addled and suicidal ghost of Boston has found life in this deadly world, with her new found talent that allows her to hunt for supplies and be Dar’s right hand helping the people of Boston.  She cares for everyone and wants nothing more than to insure the survival of the camp.  Colonel Gritz is a bit too much of a super soldier-the perfect human weapon-but he is also someone who wants to do what he can to insure both the survival of the human race and save his country from the brink of annihilation.  Of course, Brabas is a despicable sociopath through and through, but the one character who I truly despised in this story was Dar.  I loathed her in the first book and didn’t think it possible increase my aversion to her any further, but the author somehow managed to turn up her loathsomeness to an eleven.  To be fair, as I mentioned in my review of the first novel, there is nothing wrong with despicable characters.  This is no indictment to either what the author has written or the story itself.  Admittedly, Dar in her cruel and disturbing way, is doing what she believes necessary to keep the people she is responsible for safe.  But in doing so, she is far closer in personality to most villains that live in tales of apocalyptic despair than any sort of hero.  She throws anyone who defies her into a pit filled with zombies to fight for their lives, along with anyone who enters her stronghold-they must all prove they can survive against the undead.  She picks and chooses who lives, and cows anyone who even looks at her cross-eyed into complete and utter submission.  Slivers of humanity sneak through on occasion-with her young son and when she reveals her desire to keep the whole of her community safe, but that only assures the reader that she is not some sort of demon, but still a human being.  A vile, hate-filled, wretched human being who is willing to sacrifice anyone who will stand in her way, which she believes is the only way to keep others safe.  Add to this the inexplicable fact that everyone, and I do mean everyone, bows down before her in a state of awe and fear when she is clearly some sort of megalomaniac who should be put down like a rabid dog makes her an even more disconcerting character.

Darpocalypse is a solidly told story that veers closer to the traditional zompoc tale than its predecessor, though it retains a few select supernatural elements that insure it stands apart from the rest.  Yes, the author has created perhaps one of the most despicable heroes in any zompoc book I have ever read, but he has wrapped an intriguing story around her that compels me to pick up the third book to see how this wild, intriguing saga concludes.  And if I wish for Dar’s ugly, brutal demise the entire time I am reading it, so be it.

Darpocalypse can be found here:  http://www.amazon.com/Darpocalypse-The-Living-Dead-Volume/dp/1618680838/ref=tmm_pap_title_0

“Zombies Galore” has been released!

I shared not too long ago that a short story of mine had been sitting in limbo for years.  Originally intended for an anthology that was never published, it went through several gyrations with other potential homes and publishers.  Long story short, my self-help guide for the Apocalyptically-challenged has arrived and appears in the “Zombies Galore” anthology, just released this week by Knightwatch Press.  It appears with several other tales of zombie goodness that are definitely worth checking out for those who craving for the undead is only equaled by the undead’s craving for living flesh.  Well, and even those who aren’t quite that hungry.  My contribution is a guide book rather than a short story, though it will regale the reader with exciting bits and pieces of stories of survivors who learned how to cope with both the flesheaters and warmbloods who tend to make themselves pests during the end days.  So go on an check it out.  I have posted two cover images below, because there are separate links for the kindle and paperback versions of this book.  Just click on one or the other and it will shoot you over to Amazon where you can acquire this wondrous tome of zombie gory-goodness and guidance through the treacherous parts of the undead apocalypse.  And here is a list of the contributors so you can see what you are in for:

So give it a try.  I think you’ll come back for seconds.

Zombies Galore

Zombies Galore-Kindle Link

Zombies Galore Paperback link

Zombies Galore Paperback link

Review of Shane Gregory’s “The King of Clayfield”

The King of Clayfield introduces us to a man who is the curator of a small museum in the town of Clayfield, Kentucky the day the Canton B virus comes to town.  The virus essentially fries the brain of people affected by it, turning them into what amounts to zombies.  But unlike most zombie apocalypse tales, the author made this plague a bit more varied with the effects of infection.  It is airborne, which means that if you are near someone who is infected you can also become infected regardless of bites.  An odd way to combat the potential infection is by drinking alcohol.  It seems to prevent the virus from taking hold of your brain if you get intoxicated.  There are different stages to the infection, with those who die from it coming back and acting more like traditional zombies.  Those who are initially infected behave like they are somewhat human, with sexual urges and established pecking orders-they are primitive and violent, but definitely not undead cannibals.  Those who die behave more like the traditional undead we are more familiar with.  Getting bit doesn’t seem to insure death, though it is uncertain whether anyone who dies, regardless of the cause, returns.  It was certainly an interesting, a complex set of variables that the author introduces.

The story is told in first person and the narrator makes it clear how unprepared he is to survive during the course of the book.  In fact, it is a running theme-from the first survivor he meets to everything he goes through, it is a reminder of how little those of us used to modern conveniences know about growing food, staying warm, getting water, hunting, and defending ourselves.  He even jokes that he should collect someone who is Amish on a supply run so they can teach him how to function in a society without electricity and running water.  The narrator meets up with several other survivors in his trek through his hometown and surrounding area, including a woman he went to high school with who becomes his closest companion as they face down challenges from both the living and the undead.  They search houses, collect supplies, deal with other survivors both friend and foe, all as they are focused on sticking to Clayfield rather than trying to find another place deep in the countryside to hide out from the growing population of the infected and undead.

The characters, for the most part, seem believable.  The main character comes across as somewhat passive at first and while he is forced to toughen up, he seems to acquiesce to the wishes of Jen, his newfound friend, for most of the story.  Jen was not a very likable character.  She is territorial and pushy, and the narrator seems to accept this as a matter of course, even when she does her best to push away Sara, a younger survivor who they find and that Jen perceives as a threat to her place in their small group.  Jen is erratic and foolish at times, taking risks that are plain stupid.

The story is an easy read and again, the characters are believable-reacting in ways that are plausible given their dire circumstances.  They were a mixed bag though, and no one leaving me with the urge to root for them.  Some of the minor characters, like Brian, were interesting, but weren’t along for most of the ride.  Jen is incredibly annoying, and how the main character responds to her more annoying still, but this isn’t to say it isn’t completely plausible.  The author does an excellent job making them plausible characters, just not altogether likable.  There are two sequels, so the main character, who ranges from timid to rash in his thinking and acting may become someone who I can root for in those novels.

The King of Clayfield can be found here:  http://smile.amazon.com/King-Clayfield-Shane-Gregory-ebook/dp/B006I9GYZ2/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1409105570

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